Monday, December 31, 2007

2008

It is more usual on the last day of the year to look backwards, and contemplate the year past.

I am not going to do that. I want to look forward.
To all the good things ahead.

January: Another chance to win an Aurealis Best Fantasy Novel in the coming month. (Ok, I am not really expecting that one, but well, it's nice to have a chance. And if I don't, Jenny Fallon might, and that's almost as good...)

February: French version of The Aware out - my first trade paperback, from J'ai Lu. It's called La Clairvoyante.

March: Being a guest at a sff con. First time, and in my home city. Swancon/Australian Natcon, Easter. Perth. Be there. Seeing all my Oz friends/family. And a bit of down time with Karen Miller beforehand. Nice.

March-April: Wandering off with my sister around the wild southern coast of Australia, camping out under the stars ... ah. That's food for the soul.

May 1st: Song of the Shiver Barrens out in the UK.

August: Worldcon, Denver, USA. My first US con. Sharing a room with pal Donna. First time in Colarado. Yay on all counts.

August, or maybe July. Or sometime in 2008 anyway. A very special wedding of someone close to my heart. Maybe in Hawaii.

August-September: Looking after gorgeous grandson over in Virginia.

The rest of the year is still up for grabs...but I reckon it's looking pretty good from here.

How about you all?

Anyway, Happy 2008!!!!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Golden Compass

I almost didn't go and see this film. I liked the book so much, and the film seem to garner a lot of poor reviews - but today we went anyway.

And I enjoyed it, mostly. Mind you, I could fill in the back story because I had read the books and I knew what was going on, and I understood the complexities of the original tale.

Visually it was great. The ending was indeed too sweet, and I think it was a big mistake not to conclude with the real ending of the book and the ultimate betrayal that was so totally shattering. The impact of that will be lessened now, as it must come at the beginning of the next film - if there is one - when the emotional attachments to the characters now in place are diminished by time. A silly decision.

And btw, all the parents who don't like their kids to have contact with ideas that differ from their own should relax. You can let your offspring go to this movie and they will remain totally uncontaminated by any hint of atheism. Overt religious overtones are conspicuously absent from this film.

Tell you one odd thing, though. My husband, who has not read the book, was heard to mutter several times in agreement with the anti-Magisterium sentiment that emerged in the story. He obviously found those parts very personally relevant...and he has no experience whatsoever with any Christian church. Ever.

Now I wonder whatever he could possibly have been thinking...?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Living on the edge

Compare and contrast, and guess which is the tourist accommodation.
Click to enlarge.






Photos from eastern Sabah and the Sulu Sea.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Do Malaysians read?

Over the years, there has been repeated soul searching about the reading habits of Malaysians, and how to get them to read more.

Occasionally some public figure - businessman or politician - will be interviewed and he (usually it is a he) will tell of how reading made such a difference to his life. He will be photographed in his study, surrounded by books, and he will talk of those that made the difference.

Great, I think, except for one thing. Very, very rarely will he ever mention fiction. Even my husband - who reads all the time - will almost never read a book of fiction. Not even at the rate of one a year. He hasn't even read all of mine.

I was at a government clinic this morning, waiting for my turn to see the doctor. I started a new book when I arrived, and by the time I walked out of there, two and a half hours later, I had almost finished it, and what a wonderful read it was: Mr Pip, by Lloyd Jones, shortlisted for the 2007 Man-booker prize. (A book of complex ideas and themes that is amazingly easy to read - highly, highly recommended.)

Now, when I think of my wait at the clinic, I don't think of it as wasted time, but as a wonderful couple of hours spend in another world which I previously knew nothing about (Bougainville Island) during a time that I used to - very occasionally - read something about in the newspapers: the secessionist rebels' war against Papua New Guinea, backed by Australian military might. Read the book, and - if you are Australian - feel shame.

I looked around the clinic occasionally when I could drag my mind away from the story, to see what everyone else was doing.

A few read newspapers. Most sat and did exactly nothing, staring blankly into space.

How I pity them. They will never be truly well educated, because they do not read. They will never understand the human condition of people outside the limiting walls of their lives. They will never understand what it is like to be a different person, living in a different world, experiencing another vastly different life.

Except maybe as portrayed by Hollywood and the glossies. They might know a bit about Britney Spears, but what do they know of a young girl growing up on Bougainville in the 1990s? After this morning, I can tell them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reading a trilogy

I have a marked reluctance to read the second book of a trilogy if I haven't read the first. It's usually tough going, and sometimes just about impossible to make sense of what is going on.

Back in 2004, books 2 and 3 of my Isles of Glory trilogy were up for consideration for Australia's Best Fantasy of the Year Aurealis Award. I know at least one of the judges for 2004 did not read book 1 (which had been shortlisted in 2003); perhaps none of them did. I wondered at the time if that was quite fair. It is hard to judge a story when you start a third of the way in...
Be that as it may, Book 3 was shortlisted for 2004. It did not win though.

I have just read a review of The Shadow of Tyr, book 2 of The Mirage Makers, written by a reviewer who has not read book 1, over at The Bookbag. [Spoiler Warning: don't read the review unless you have read "Heart of the Mirage"!!]

Needless to say, she found it hard going to start with, but I was heartened to see that not only did she finish it, but by the end she could give it 4 out of 5 stars and write:

"I began to see just why Larke elicits the comments she does. Once I’d got embedded into the mindset and began to find my way in this world – which is closer to ancient Rome than the usual “mediaeval” setting chosen for fantasy stories – I did begin to care about the characters. In particular Arrant – the son who appears to be as flawed as Ligea feared he might be – and his interaction with the other that takes over his mind. By the end Larke had my emotional attention. Had I started at the beginning, as one should, I’d have enjoyed the whole much more [....] She can spin a battle-scene with the power of a mirage whirlwind, and capture the stunned silence in the aftermath of a massacre."

That was a nice Christmas present.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I am rich

My Christmas was great. My family might not have been around, except for my husband, but friends were and we had two very pleasant days of eating and drinking far too much and talking a lot.
You can't beat good company and good food.

I have so much to be grateful for.
Photo (October '07) : a shop and house on Banggi Island, Sabah. We stopped to buy a couple of cans of drink...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Author ego boost

The other day someone told me he thought it might be better if I turned my talents to writing mainstream fiction because he didn't think I did much of job giving fantasy readers what they wanted.

Ouch.
I sincerely hope that what he was actually saying was that I don't write what he wants, which is doubtless true. I have to believe that fantasy is a wide genre that contains everything from the large canvas epics and swordfighting heroics to the more intimate romance, from modern urban settings to space opera, and the whole gamut of story types and settings between, and therefore any attempt to speak of "fantasy readers" as a homogeneous group is naive. There is something for everyone out there.

Anyway, I was still picking myself up off the floor when I had a reader post a comment re one of my trilogies in the post below (thanks Hisham) , which promptly restored some of the leaking self-confidence.*

Secondly I did something I have been meaning to do for some time, and that is start sprucing up this blog. I began by putting pix of all the editions of my books down the lefthand side. And to my astonishment, I realised there are 16 of them, plus another five in the process of production which I haven't received copies of yet. I hadn't realised there were so many...

I feel much better now.

Merry Christmas

*[Hey, Never underestimate the effect on the writer of a positive - or even just a thoughtful - comment. We work in a vacuum, and knowing what you, the reader, thinks is important. So go out there and give your favourite authors, wherever they are, a Christmas present. Write something on Amazon.com or amazon.co.uk or some similar site about your favourite books. Or send them an email. Or write in the writer's guestbook on their website about how much enjoyment they have given you this year. Believe me, except for the really mega selling authors who get a bit snowed under by reader response, they will read it. ]

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Never condescend to kids

This from nytimes.com via Making Light. Love it.

(For those who don't follow US politics, Mr Huckabee is a Republican presidential hopeful.)

“Who is your favorite author?” Aleya Deatsch, 7, of West Des Moines asked Mr. Huckabee in one of those posing-like-a-shopping-mall-Santa moments.

Mr. Huckabee paused, then said his favorite author was Dr Seuss.

In an interview afterward with the news media, Aleya said she was somewhat surprised. She thought the candidate would be reading at a higher level.

I guess she hasn't yet been disallusioned by the scholarship of the average politician. The clincher, though, was in her follow up. Sort of: "If I can get this far, how come...?"

“My favorite author is C. S. Lewis,” she said.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Seasonal sadness

Yesterday was the festival of Eid Al-Adha. For my husband's family, this year was more special than usual, as one of his sisters was off performing the Hajj.

Next week is Christmas - yet another Xmas which I don't spend with any of my own family. The last time we were all together at Christmas? I can't remember the year; certainly more than five years ago. In Scotland, it was, and it snowed.

Yesterday, we went to the old family home in the Malacca village where my husband grew up, the very house where I first met all his sisters and his parents and his brother, so very long ago. It was late at night, the year was 1968 and a coconut tree had fallen across the power lines. So I met them all for the first time by lamplight. It was Eid Al Fitr and Christmas, both, and I was sick with apprehension. So, I suppose, were they, although that never occurred to me at the time.

This time, when our car pulls into the yard, my husband looks anguished. The garden - once so lovingly tended by his mother - is all dead. All her beautiful orchids are gone and the orchid shade-house pulled down. The rambutan tree my father-in-law used to sit under in the evenings is no more, and the earth is hard and bare, the grass dead.

My parents-in-law have both gone now, and their eldest daughter- so kind in heart and generous of spirit - gone as well. No one lives in the house. One of my Malaysian sisters opens up the house for the festival, and those of us who remain go back. We eat, and talk, and exchange news. There are gaps at the table, not just for those who are gone, for there are divisions in the family now, when once they were strong and united.

Time has moved on. We have moved on. Yet, so suddenly yesterday, we discovered happy memories have the power to hurt.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On being morally manipulative

Over at Deep Genre, there was a discussion that started off talking about the film, The Golden Compass, but ended up much more interesting to my mind.

An author made this remark: "The book was morally manipulative to the 9th degree. I strongly disliked it, and it's no surprise to me that the movie only make it worse."

This comment niggled at me for some time. Now I can understand perfectly that some readers might not like the message of the books, and may heartily despise Pullman's atheism, just as there are many who can't stand C.S.Lewis's brand of Christianity in the Narnia books, or even George Orwell's politics in Animal Farm.

But morally manipulative??

Is an author morally manipulative when he or she writes a book that reflects their religious beliefs or philosophy of life? Was the commentator meaning "immorally manipulative" in that he was trying to get children to question their religious beliefs (if indeed, he was?)? If so, then was Lewis also morally manipulative when he tried to encourage children to be good little Christians? After all, that implies that he was also trying to manipulate Muslims/Buddhist/Jewish/atheist/etc/ kids away from their present religious persuasion!

I don't know, but I thought the comment distinctly unfair. Just because an author holds a belief and writes stories on themes reminiscent of those beliefs does not mean that we have a right to condemn them as manipulative. Perhaps it would be more honest to say they are holding true to themselves.

(Anyway, I am more likely to criticise a writer when their themes/beliefs swamp the story in moralising, and you end up with self-righteous prose that is as tiring as it is ineffective.)

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What few people want or enjoy

Recently I was up at Fraser's Hill, with a long time friend who recently came back to Malaysia for a dose of nostalgia.

I love the way the mountains change. How a few minutes can mean a totally different scene. I love the sounds of the forest - the rush of rain as it moves across the valley towards me, bird song and gibbon woops and the squirrels' chattering indignation, the whoosh of hornbill wings like a steam train going up a hill. I love the way the mists mutes nature, sight and sound.




























Fraser's is over 1000m in altitude, and therefore a lovely cool place in the tropics. All these photos were taken from balcony of the apartment where I stay - thanks to the wonderful generosity of another friend.

Years ago, many decisions were made that came close to spoiling this idyllic hill resort - ruinous development plans such as an extravagant golf course and resort, now closed down because no one came. The people who appreciated the quiet and the nature were beginning to give the place a miss. With their ill-conceived actions, authorities halved the number of kilometres of walking trails, and their passion for slashing the forest edge away from roads and banks as much as possible increased the probability of landslips and decreased the probability of seeing wildlife such as birds.

Birdwatchers still come though, even though it is more difficult to see birds, and the local authories managed to ensue that one of the world's premier birdwatching accommodations, the famous Gap Resthouse, is pretty much abandoned. You have to have the persistence of a nagging fly, and a knowledge of the Malaysian language, and insider information to crack the code of how to book it - and then when you arrive you have to chase down the key holder like it was buried treasure because they totally ignore your booking and you starve to death because they don't want to cook.

But the general public doesn't go to Fraser's. Too dull, the KLite says. Nothing to do. No shopping, lah. No internet cafes. No clubs. Few restaurants or stalls. No night life. No day life either, if it comes to that. What is there to do?

You see them sometimes, driving around in their cars with the radios on and the windows wound up, hooting every time they come to a corner.

So Fraser's is tatty and rundown. Locals leave because there is no work.

It's only an hour or two from the city. You'd think that people would come to recover from the the horrors of KL - from the traffic jams and noise pollution, dirty air and dust and construction, snatch thieves and carjackings and break ins.

Alas, they don't. They don't see what I see.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Infanticida




My husband is back from Indonesia. Now here's irony for you: the immigration there was highly suspicious of his brand new passport, issued just that morning, and demanded to see his old one! Fortunately he had it with him.

And here are some more plants - flower and buds - from Cameron Highlands that he wants me to put up...maybe he wants to freak Karen out again. They are related to the Rafflesia, they are also parasitic and leafless, but somewhat smaller, in this case growing on the host's root in the ground.

Name? Rhaizanthes infanticida. Hmm. Not sure why they should be called infant killers, but maybe Karen has a point...and the dead one looks decidedly evil. Perhaps it has murderous designs on the buds?*

*Just checked with husband. Seems the flower kills the larvae of any insect unwise enough to consider it a suitable creche.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Grammatical error - or not?

One shouldn't split infinitives, right? (To boldly go, anyone...?)
Or end a sentence with a preposition? ("This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.")
And everyone knows you shouldn't start a sentence with "And", or that "dinner is done and people are finished" and that "Hopefully" it is "children who are reared and crops that are raised..."

Right or wrong?

Check out this wonderful site, if you want a handy reference. Better still, buy the book.

And I really can say "My last book is entitled Song of the Shiver Barrens." Chaucer said so.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Are Malaysians stealing my books?


The other day I was in the Borders Bookstore over at the Curve in Bandar Utama, and (as authors tend to do, alas) looked to see if they had any of my books. They didn't, at least not in the fantasy section, nor in the general novels. So I asked an assistant.

Because there were two down as unsold in the inventory, a delightfully helpful gentleman then went to a great deal of trouble to look for them. He even emailed me afterwards to tell me that even a thorough search had not managed to unearth the missing volumes. So if you go there, you are unlikely to find "Heart of the Mirage" - but I can thoroughly recommend the staff.

And I am left wondering if folk have been stealing my books. (Come on, guys, you are supposed to pay for them, you know.)

And I have just received a box of author copies of "The Shadow of Tyr", so that title should be in the bookshops here soon. (It is already on sale in the UK and on Amazon.co.uk. ) MPH in MidValley had a stack of "Heart of the Mirage" not so long ago and some should still be there. The store in Subang Parade also had it recently. I haven't tried Kinokuniya but I imagine it's there too.

So happy holiday reading everyone - and don't forget, give books as presents.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Writerly perks...





Ok, I admit it, I'm a sucker for ego-stroking. Having spent most of my life being cast into a shadow by the man I married, it is nice to be recognised in my own right.

And having a place in a 2008 diary, along with lots of other HarperCollins Voyager authors is, well, nice. Thanks so much to the Voyager marketing/publicity team.

How to get hold of the diary? Well, I hear it's being handed out to Australian booksellers and sff fans who are supportive of Voyager (by buying lots of Voyager books?) , so if you fit the bill, look out for it. It is a fun production and tells you just how mad some of us authors are...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Here's a Christmas present for writers...

Actually it's more a present that a disgruntled spouse should give to their writer partner. It's called a demotivation calendar, designed to help you break the addiction.

A wall calendar taking a cynical look at what we do...
This is what the January page says:

ASPIRATION
You will never be this good. You're not even Titus Andronicus good, much less Hamlet good...

February has a great pix of a library interior and the words:
INSPIRATION: the act of forgetting where you stole your ideas...

Here's the website where you can buy it for the writer in your family who should be out earning good money doing something else.

Seriously, it's rather fun and I wouldn't mind having it on my wall. It would take more than that to demotivate me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Curse strikes again...

Noramlyed once more.*

The last 3 days have been awful, with one miserable thing happening after another, a lot of them costing me money that I didn't expect to have to pay out.

So I guess I should not have been surprised to find that something went wrong when I took my husband out to the airport for an international flight. His passport was 3 days under 6 months to expiry - and they wouldn't let him on the plane. So he had to dash off to the immigration and get a new passport. But in K.L. there are more demonstrations, and more road blocks, and tens of kilometres of traffic jams. And it was a Selangor State holiday, so no chance of going to the state passport office. What a stressful mess. Anyway, finally he took off 24 hours late, and 600 RM out of pocket for new ticket and new passport.

*word invented by the guys who married into this family, to describe the inevitable disaster that happens when travelling with us. Can be used as a verb: "We've been Noramlyed again" or an adjective: "It was a Noramlyed trip."

Monday, December 10, 2007






My husband has asked me to put these up here: pix from a recent trip to Cameron Highlands of Rafflesia cantleyi, bud and flowers and the host vine. (The flowers are parasitic, and leafless.)

The thing that really impresses me about these things is how the fertilised seed ever finds the right host vine in the rainforest. Needles in a haystack would be a cinch by comparison.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Moving House



So, after more than a month in transit, our boxes arrived from Sabah. And my lounge room looks like this. Aaargh!
Where did we get all this stuff?

I should be used to this kind of thing, I suppose. I have lived in 16 different houses or apartments, 14 of them since I married, on 4 different continents.

But if I have done without the contents of these boxes for a month, why do I need it now?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Making a cake - and taking 6-8 hours to do it


LIFE ON BANGGI ISLAND (Sabah).
Festival fare – a sticky cake called dodol.

The first thing you have to do is start grating the fresh coconuts with the aid of a small motor and a grater mounted in the middle of a basin. And be careful not to grate your fingers. (See the bare chested young man in the first photo, seated in front of the basin and holding up a half coconut.)

The ingredients are coconut milk, coconut palm sugar or cane sugar, flavouring supplied by leaves of screw pine (pandan), and glutinous rice flour – all of which has to be stirred over an open fire for eight hours or so. As the mixture cooks, the mixture gets harder and harder to stir...
Note the pit dug for the fire and the large wok placed on banana stems.

Makes baking a Christmas cake look simple.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Song of the Shiver Barrens: Australian Aurealis Shortlist for the Best Fantasy Novel of 2007


Yes, it's that time of the year when the shortlist of five is announced.

And Song of the Shiver Barrens has made it. I was so thrilled that I shot off an email to my agent and the Orbit UK team, and managed to get the name of my own book wrong. Sigh.

It means that every time I have had a book in the running I have made the shortlist, which is really encouraging...

The other four shortlisted works are:
Jennifer Fallon, The Gods of Amyrantha
Lian Hearn, Heaven’s Net is Wide
Sylvia Kelso, The Moving Water
Michael Pryor, Heart of Gold

I am delighted to see fellow Voyager author Jenny's book up there, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it the best book she had written to date, and that's saying something.

There are some other pals up there in the short story sections, and two fellow Orbit/Voyager authors in Sean Williams and Marianne de Pierres in the Science Fiction category. Congrats everyone.

My grateful thanks to the Aurealis team and Fantastic Queensland and Chimaera Publications for putting in all the hard work to keep the awards going.

The winners will be announced Jan 26th. Alas, won't be able to attend...too far, and too expensive.
More here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why I take notice of my beta readers even when I don't agree with them...(2)

I love reading the kind of book where you start and then it's like entering a tunnel. Everything on all sides just disappears - the people around you, the sounds, sights, all that stress, all those niggling guilts about what you should be doing...the book holds you spellbound, oblivious, and you are doomed to stay that way (with possible temporary exits for food and water or work!) until you emerge from the tunnel at the end.

And that's the kind of book I would like to write. It's what most fiction writers dream of doing to their readers. But alas, it is all too easy to jerk the reader out of that realm of yours and bring him down with a thump because something you wrote didn't ring true. It could be getting a fact wrong (talking about tigers roaming Africa, for example). It could be using a word wrongly or a spelling mistake (mentioning a breeching whale as I did once...*blush*). It might be just plain poor grammar or convoluted sentences that need re-reading several times to understand. It might be a historical fault - referring to people of eating potatoes in Europe before potatoes arrived from the new world.

Or it could, in fantasy writing, be the use of a word that jolts the reader because it seems inappropriate. The use of modern slang just doesn't sit well: "run that by me one more time" or "that is so not on!" I just read a review of a (sff) book about the Franklin Expedition, which review criticised the author for several solecisms, including having his British ship's crew use the American word "ass" - not possible, especially back then.

But what happens when you, the author are technically correct? Neal Stephenson was chided for talking about the Kit-Kat Club back in Regency London...come on, says the reviewer.
But there was such a club. It existed. Yes, 200 years ago. Correct the reference may have been, but it jerked the reviewer out of Stephenson's world.

So, if I refer to "kids" in my pre-industrial fantasy, am I wrong? The word, used meaning children, has existed in written works for at least that long, and presumably a lot longer as spoken slang.

And what about "foreign" words in my made-up fantasy world? Can I use "paramour" or "clientele" or "vice versa" or "ying and yang" or expressions like "the lotus position" or....? You get the picture.

Sometimes my beta readers will seize on words that I think are absolutely harmless. "Clientele" in my fantasy world brothel? And "vagina"? (Ok, so what do I call it - politely - otherwise?)

But the fact is, for that beta reader, it didn't work. She was back in this world, where I don't want her to be. So I sit up and take notice, at the very least, even when I think I am right...

What do you think? What are some of the horrendous gaffes you've come across?

Why I take notice of my beta readers even when I don't agree with them...(1)

This is a sort of follow on from the previous post - which has some very interesting comments, by the way.

I am in the midst of this fascinating process of getting feedback from first readers, some of them writers themselves, some not. And truly marvellous they are, with an eye for the ridiculous, the grammatical error, the typo, the rough spot, the plot hole, and so on. I can read something twenty times and still not see something under my nose, or I just simply don't see an illogically in the story at all.
Here's one that was spotted: there's one scene in my book where a man, camped on the outskirts of a village, has to clandestinely visit a village child whom he knows is alone in his hut just outside the village. He also has to carry a rather large basket of stuff. I had no problem with that...but a beta reader did.



In effect:
How come he is able - in broad daylight - to walk around the outskirts of the village without a) someone spotting him, especially when he is hampered by the basket, and b) why aren't there a myriad of village children following him everywhere??

Oh, lord, so true. (Thanks Phill!)

The photographs taken by me are of my husband on Banggi Island, and of Hamid, from the University Malaysia Sabah, on the island of Mabul, Sabah....

Ah, seems I don't have time to get to the bit of what I wanted to say that refers to the blog title. I will continue tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On writing: Staying true to oneself?

I came across a post the other day where a (published) author was asking his readers what they thought about the amount of violence and torture and unpleasant deaths occurring in a fantasy novel. The one he was currently writing contained a lot of graphic detail and he wanted to know whether he should tone it down.

A number of his respondents to his blog said things which amounted to: "It's your book and you should stay true to yourself/to your tale."

I am not so sure it is that simple.

Yes, there are times when an author needs to stand up for what they believe in, or for the demands of their story - but we want also to be published. We want publishers to make a profit so that they will give us another contract. We want our readers to be delighted with our novels so that they will buy the next one. We want to give reading pleasure to other people. (Besides, praise feeds our voracious egos!)

I look upon the publication of a book of mine as a sort of unwritten contract between me and the reader: the reader pays money, some of which ultimately gets to me, and I write the best book I can in return, so as not to disappoint. The trouble is...what defines "the best" I can do?

Well, it doesn't mean that I deliberately write a story based on what I think will please my audience - you know, "Let's throw in a bit of gratuitous sex here just to perk things up even if uit has nothing to do with the plot". It doesn't mean, "Let's tone down the anti-religious tone of this story otherwise it will upset the Christians in the audience", as seems to have happened with the filming of Pullman's Golden Compass.

But on the other hand, a writer who doesn't consider his audience and try to please them - within the bounds of his storyline and themes - seems a bit arrogant to me. "Here, this is my book, and I don't give a damn what you think about it. And don't you dare criticize it, either. It's my book and I'll darn well write what I like." It is an attitude that surfaces in the occasional very successful author from time to time.

I guess it's all about balance in the end.
What do you think?

Oddly enough, the author mentioned above left the violence in, but not because of an arrogant attitude to those who would read his book. In fact, he was uneasy about the level of violence himself. He left it in because others told him to do so ... in other words, to please the readers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I have broadband, and I didn't have to sell my house to get it...

...as Jennifer Fallon did. I followed on her blog her long saga detailing her attempts and frustrations as she tried to subscribe (in Alice Springs, Australia, which admittedly is close to the end of the civilised world) until she finally gave up and bought a house that had broadband. Now that's what I call determination. Or desperation. She did say that the jacuzzi in the new house had something to do with her purchase, but my feeling is that the broadband connection was the clincher.

If you don't read Jenny's blog, you ought to. She is exceptionally funny. (Besides, yesterday she plugged one of my books. :-) ) She is also a gifted fantasy author and one of the very, very few who can induce me to stay up past 1 a.m. to find out how a story turns out. She still manages to surprise me too, which is equally rare these days. Tip-top entertainment...

Now I have to resist the temptation to spend twice as much time as I should online. I wonder if I can get some tips from Jenny...

Monday, December 03, 2007

KOTA BELUD BIRD SANCTUARY

Kota Belud is a town just to the north of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. It is chiefly famous for its Sunday market, but the area is also supposed to be a bird sanctuary because of its extensive wetlands and ricefields, a favoured stopover for migratory waterbirds.














We went birdwatching there just before we returned to Kuala Lumpur.

Questioning locals about birds got us nowhere. The only birds they could think of were the ostriches in a nearby ostrich farm. So we set off to explore the area ourselves.

Scenery – brilliant. Birds, all over the place. Egrets, snipe, herons, sandpipers, duck, grassbirds, pipits, wagtails – I could have spent days there just poking around.

But a bird sanctuary? Well, forget the sanctuary bit.

Along the main road, there was a licensed stall selling wild birds stuck in impossibly small cages, including fledgling hill mynas obviously taken from the nest and as yet unable to feed themselves, shamas, doves, hanging parrots, even a young barbet. Horrible, quite, quite horrible.














I am always tempted when I see such places to buy everything and let them go. I never do, because in the end that just encourages the trade, and a conservationist has to put the greater good of the species before the individual animal. But it hurts. It hurts for days. And were these folk locals, doing what they have done for generations? Nope. They were from Malacca.

We stopped to watch some farmers harvesting rice. The harvester circled around the padi field, making an island of the ripened rice in the middle of the field. A couple of boys, the oldest about twelve, ran around the edges of the newly cut crop with a dog. At first we thought they were playing. They certainly seem to be enjoying themselves, but it was hard to see what they were up to, as we were a long way off. And then we realised: they were catching what looked to be Slatey-breasted Rails. (That’s a bird, you non-birders out there, a type of ‘ruak’, waterhen-like, the size of a bantam hen.) These birds can fly, but their preferred desire to run and hide betrays them. The boys and the dog were too quick.

Soon, as the expanse of standing crop was reduced down the size of a tennis court, the boys each had five or six birds dangling by their legs – some obviously still alive. The boys contribution to the family dinner.

Does it worry me? Not as much as the caged birds for sale, not by a long shot. But yes, it does, even so. There are rare crakes and rails as well as common ones. These farmers don’t know the difference. They should. There should be laws to obey: “you can take this species, but not that one” or “you can take so many per family member and no more” and so on.

What worked as sustainable harvesting 100 years ago doesn’t work any more, what with a population growth that is totally out of control. Uncontrolled harvesting of wildlife is detrimental to the species as well as the farmer (for insect control as well as for future dinners). Everything has to be sustainable.

A bird sanctuary indeed. We Malaysians have a lot to learn about compassion for animals – even the ones we eat - about sustainability, conservation and environmental impact. Unless we learn these lessons, then we are dooming ourselves to an impoverished future, both for humans and for our biodiversity.

And don’t talk to me about education and waiting for the present day youngsters to grow up with different attitudes. We are running out of time.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

For UK readers: look out for this....





In the U.K., the date that The Shadow of Tyr should be available is 6th December. Yep, just in time to give yourself - or someone else - a Christmas present. In fact, I note it is already on sale on Amazon here.

Power...it's not everything.
It might not even be enough.


This is the second book in the Mirage Makers, and continues the story of Ligea, although it becomes - by the end - more the tangled tale of her son, Arrant. Themes of betrayal and belonging continue against a background of war and adventure and magic.

About this time every year I say the same thing to everyone: buy books as presents. Fiction, non-fiction, whatever. Especially buy books for children. Read them to the kids. Let's not allow reading books to die in this digital world.

One of favourite memories was waking up as a child in the sleep-out on a hot summer's Christmas morning, and finding that Father Christmas (whom I knew had to be Mum, not Dad!) had left a book in the stocking, plus other goodies. Actually, of course, this was Mum's way of making sure she had a bit of a sleep-in before I padded along the veranda and into the house.

I usually had the book finished before breakfast...Christmas would not have felt right without a few new books.

Give the gift of reading to others this Festive Season.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Yes, but it’s a hospital…

As some of you know, I have spent the past 5 days in hospital, trying to find out why I was having repeated attacks of apparent food-poisoning. I'm out now, with no clear cut answers, but I do feel better.

Definitely I have no reason to complain. I was in a first class ward, in a room to myself, in a hospital that is only two years old. Believe me I have been in many a hotel room that was ten times worse. The bathroom was luxurious, with water pressure would clean the dirt off a logging truck at fifty paces. Puts my own house to shame.

The nurses were cheerful and obliging, the doctors attentive, and willing to explain what they were doing and why, without even being asked.

And I wasn’t even that sick. It was just that over the past three weeks, I’d had one bout after another, and it was obviously something that needed investigating with some urgency.

So into hospital – a government public hospital – I went.

So what am I doing complaining?
Well, it was a hospital

A green suit of hospital clothing that would fit a sumo wrestler, with pants that had room for two. I looked like Kermit the Cane Toad with a weight problem. That was the first night. The second day they gave me a green sarong instead. But alas, for all my Asian history, I have never been able to keep a sarong tied while asleep. Can’t be done. It falls off early in the night and ends up wound round my feet like camel hobbles. And this one was actually the size of a bedouin tent. No one less than seven foot tall would have felt at home wearing this, I swear.

Then there’s the ECG with such efficient suction caps I ended up with hickies all over my chest.

A needle in the back of my hand for a drip, because I was looking like a dried up old prune, one with dehydration at that. (I didn’t tell them that was my normal appearance.) Have you ever tried to get a good night’s sleep tethered to one of those things, rather like a recalcitrant cow the farmer wants to stop wandering off?

Inevitably, some time during the night, I roll over and squash the hand that has a six inch needle stuck in it. Aargh. (Ok, it’s not six inches; it just feels like it, especially when you are lying on top of it.) And they didn’t have one of those trundle things on wheels to take it around with you when you move, so there I am off to the loo countless times (because the drip goes in, and what goes in…), holding the saline bottle up like the Statue of Liberty looking for somewhere to hang it.

And it seems like every time you get comfortable, a nurse or doctor comes around to prick your finger, stab you with a needle, take your blood pressure, stick things into your various orifices with varying degrees of discomfort.

And what’s with this early rising thingy in hospitals?? World over, they all seem to think the day begins at 4.45 a.m. And that’s after a night where someone had a really, really bad time in the room next door at 1 a.m., 2 a.m. and 3 a.m….

Food – actually, not bad in selection and taste. You have a choice of diet, and I chose Western. But hey, this is a hospital, and the food is always cold by the time it gets to the patient. Cold spaghetti, cold chicken broth, cold fish and french fries, cold beef bacon and hash browns…you get the picture. And because it is Asia, they serve with spoon and fork, no knife.

But hey, I’m not complaining, right?

…What? … I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.

More tomorrow.